Ibiza: What it's like raving in a wheelchair on the party island

By Alex Taylor
BBC News


A year ago, I was told I would have to pay double to get into a nightclub in Ibiza.

Why? I have cerebral palsy, a condition which affects mobility, and rely on a carer to help me on nights out - who also needed to pay the entry price.

I received an apology from the club, Amnesia, but have things really changed for disabled clubbers on the party island?

This summer, I returned to Ibiza for Newsbeat's latest documentary Ibiza: Access All Areas?

Here's what I learned about raving in a wheelchair:

1. I travel like the Royal Family

Image caption,
Alex was escorted to the plane by an airport staff member

If you use a wheelchair or have any kind of mobility issue, airlines offer special assistance to help you board the plane. Since I can't walk unaided, this is quite helpful.

It meant I got to travel through the airport like the Royal Family - being escorted by a car topped with flashing lights.

On the plane itself, my poor balance means I had to be transported to my seat in a blue chair which has wheels.

I reckon I probably looked like a poor man's version of X-Men's Professor Charles Xavier.

The journey is rounded off by the assistance staff asking me to cross my arms in a Buddha-like pose while they lift me into my seat.

Disability travel doesn't always run smoothly but fortunately for my trip to Ibiza, it worked perfectly.

2. Access is still a lottery

Image caption,
Alex and his carer Rachel were initially refused entry to Amnesia

Nightclub access on the island mirrors an incomplete jigsaw puzzle - as my experience returning to Amnesia showed.

Its entry policy for clubbers who use a wheelchair remains at best confusing and, at worst, it feels as though it doesn't care.

My carer was, once again, refused entry without a full-price ticket until - this time surrounded by more people arguing my case - strength in numbers saw the doorman relent.

Image caption,
Alex had to enter Pacha through a side entrance

This feeling of being a troublesome afterthought continued at Pacha.

Although we avoided carer troubles, I needed to enter through a side entrance and found my way to the dancefloor blocked by steps.

Eventually, a staff member directed us through a second accessible ramped entrance - which wasn't signposted and took us through a fire exit.

It all felt unnecessarily secretive - as if my access needs were a dark source of shame.

3. Disabled toilets are full of surprises

Image caption,
Amnesia's disabled toilet had a microwave and fridge inside

I generally find disabled toilets in nightclubs to be confusing places - that's if they exist at all - and in Ibiza it was no different.

Amnesia chose to transform its disabled toilet into a staff room - complete with a fridge and microwave. A sign, perhaps, of how little the room has been used for its original purpose.

Pacha's toilet, meanwhile, turned out to be one really big room with a washbasin at one end and a toilet at the other. No assistance rails in sight - which isn't great if you can't walk.

Image caption,
The disabled toilet in Pacha had no assistance rails

What was I supposed to do - hold onto the basin and somehow pee across the room?

The Pacha Group has apologised for the "negative experience and inconveniences suffered by Alex".

It says it's "committed to the equal treatment of people with disabilities" and has since improved disabled access into the club.

Amnesia hasn't responded to Newsbeat's request for a comment.

4. I'm an 'inspiration'

Image caption,
Alex made friends on the dancefloor in Es Paradis

The accessibility struggles often mean I, unsurprisingly, find myself the only wheelchair user on the dancefloor.

This doesn't bother me but does lead to some interesting, and hilarious, reactions.

"You're such an inspiration," I've been told by one clubber.

Other comments include "I respect you so much, well done lad", "Can I get a selfie?" or "I understand what it's like, I broke my little toe last year".

While I can see the funny side and understand people generally mean well, the surprise and attention for just being myself, in a wheelchair, at a club, can get a bit wearing.

Deep down, I do wonder - when will this end? When will I stop being something out of the ordinary just for being on the dancefloor?

Probably when access is improved so more disabled clubbers feel welcome and included.

5. I can escape my disability

Image caption,
Alex felt "barriers were removed" at a club night in Es Paradis

Thankfully, there are more than enough people who make the experience enjoyable and dance with me not because of the chair - but because we want to have a good time.

Without wishing to turn this into an X Factor-style tear jerker, I am always humbled by the kindness shown to me by fellow clubbers.

Yes, there are disability access issues, but these are not impossible to overcome. Attitude is everything.

And that was clearly on show when I went into Es Paradis. Staff and clubbers were happy to help carry me down the few steps to the main dancefloor.

In this environment, as at the pool party at Ocean Beach, I feel the barriers are removed for a brief while - the fight to reveal the personality behind the wheelchair suspended.

I find it's my disability, not me that's locked outside.

Media caption,
Ibiza: Access All Areas? A Newsbeat documentary

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